Buddhist Meditation
Systematic and Practical


A Talk by the Buddhist Yogi

Written Down by

First Published in 1967





We have discussed meditation from the standpoints of philosophy, tradition, and practice, but here the practical aspect is the most important. Both the old and the new schools in Tibet agree on these invaluable preparations for Tantric practice. The subject is divided into five sections: the four foundations considered individually, and the interrelationships between them.


A. Taking Refuge


In the whole system of Buddhist meditation, to take refuge is the beginning of practice, following the two wisdoms of hearing (or reading) and thinking. The fault of most Eastern Buddhists is that they take the refuges first, before developing these two wisdoms.


The Buddha did not receive a disciple unless that person first knew something of his teachings. In fact, he personally instructed those who came to him before admitting them as disciples and always asked them to study and thoroughly understand what he taught. He did not favor blind faith; in the Dhammapada we find many instructions concerning this. The Buddha mentioned two sorts of people who take Dharma-instructions: one who was inspired by the Exalted One and immediately believed in him, and one who did not take the refuges first, but rather gained knowledge of the teachings, as many Westerners do. The Enlightened One declared that he preferred the latter type. This is one extremely important characteristic of the Buddhist religion, distinguishing it from others. In Buddhism, one is encouraged to question, to gain knowledge, and to develop intelligence, a striking contrast with some other religions.


Westerners learn many Buddhist teachings from reading translations of the sacred texts. This is good. I was very much ashamed to hear Mme. Alexandra David-Neel preach for the Sutren Buddhist Association. On the surface, she praised the Chinese, but I think that really her talk contained the sharpest criticism. She said, "It is very fortunate that all Chinese believe Buddhism. Even all the little children and the village people who know nothing all praise the Buddha. In the West it is different. There, few people are Buddhists but many of them are scholars and philosophers who have studied his teachings."


The only faith that most Chinese have in the Buddha is to regard him as some spirit or god. They worship the Buddha just as they worship Guan Gong or any other deva. Most of them have no idea of the difference between respecting a god and taking refuge in the Buddha. In the West it is excellent that before becoming Buddhist people acquire knowledge.


Among the three kinds of wisdom, taking refuge belongs to the wisdom of practice, the third one.


1. Preparations for Taking Refuge


a. Hinayana. One should first study Hinayana doctrine and realize the very terrible and dangerous conditions existing in the world, which are liable to affect one unless the triple refuge is taken. After one has read translations (or texts) of the Theravada scriptures (as, for instance, those issued by the Pali Text Society), one will know the conditions of human life. Whether one is rich or poor, weak or strong, one realizes that this Saha world is full of dangers. By our studying the Four Noble Truths and seeing their application in our life, many bitter, painful things come into one's span of knowledge which had not been discovered before. Also, one will formulate a philosophy of the universe and of life according to investigation of the first two Noble Truths. For this one needs to take refuge in the Three Gems.


Many persons in the East take the refuges but do not first know the dangers of this world. Indeed, it is my experience that they are usually seeking comforts rather than seeing dangers when they visit a temple. In the temple, especially if it is a rich one, they may have the best worldly comforts while enjoying the quasi-spiritual pleasure of seeing marks of attainment in others. In Chinese temples there are different waiting rooms for visitors graded according to social ranksome are outside the main building and rather sparsely furnished, while others are secluded in the complex of courts and buildings and are most elegant. The tea with which the guests are provided also varies with their status.


Mr. Chen rose and did a bit of acting. Pretending to be a host monk, he called out rather harshly and abruptly, "Bring tea." "This," he explained, "is the order for poor persons and the attendant thereby knows that the lowest grade of tea is meant. For those of middle standing" and Mr. Chen smiled politely,"the order is, 'Tea, please,' and such people then receive a medium good tea." Beaming, he called out in refined tones, "'Please give the best tea.' That is for guests of the highest social position." Bhante noted, "They must know that they are getting the best." Said the yogi, "It is my good luck that I can always give you the best tea. I have just told you this as you should know what these people think about when they go to a monastery, even if it is to take the refuges."


Again, two kinds of comforts are spoken of in China : "pure comfort" and "red comfort." The pure sort is experienced from visiting some mountain peak and there throwing away all cares, to discourse philosophically with monks and nuns, and admire the beauty, solitude, and quietness of the surroundings. "Red" comfort is gained from worldly pleasures, such as those of food or contact with the opposite sex. Whether people are bent on the first or the second, they never think of the shortness of life, or when they may die, or of disease, old age, and so forth. Although they do not think about these things, they are just like deer with many wounds from hunters' arrows.


Even those who come to a monastery with the idea of becoming monks may be treated very well, with plenty of food, good beds, and fine views from the windows. Chinese monasteries are commonly built on or near famous mountains and have much land with many farmers working to support them.


Under the present regime in China , read "had" instead of "have."


There was no need for visitors to bring food from one's family, as was the usual practice among Tibetans. All this, we see, is very comfortable and really shows a lack of the Hinayana spirit of renunciation. Of course, not all monks and monasteries are like this, but still this condition was certainly very common.


One should think of taking refuge as similar to the small chicks crowding under the wings of their mother when things around them threaten to harm them. Or else one may think of the Tibetan refugees when they escaped from their Communist-dominated homeland to India , finding many consolations there, but at the same time remembering the great dangers they had avoided. Thus should one think about this world and the refuges.


If one does not think like this, the refuges are without meaning. Even some bhiksus have not attained a proper idea about refuge-taking. Instead of taking refuge in the Dharma, which is the true teacher, they seem to become monks only to get a wealthy patron, good food, a good reputation, and so forth. If their guru orders them to go and stay for a long while in a mountain hermitage, they do not like to obey him, but if a patron invites them to his house, immediately they go. Laymen also sometimes think that these refuges are a sure protection from worldly sorrows, and so take them to promote good business, to get more money, a son, or to make a good marriage. This is not sincerely taking refuge in the Triple Gem at all.


Above is what we may call the negative side of the refuges: one must see all the dangers of samsara before one can really desire to escape from it. Moreover, this ideal must be held very firmly in the mind.


b. Mahayana. From the sunyata sublimation in the Mahayana, one discovers a positive transformation of human life into the good conditions of Buddha-nature. If one has not yet realized this sublimation, but has finished the Hinayana preparations, the meditator should ask himself: "Now that I am rid of painful affliction, what should I do?" At this stage, one should take the advice of some well-experienced teacher.


My guru, Tai Xu, wrote a book entitled: A Buddhist Must Declare Himself. The substance of this work lies in this declaration: "Now I have become a Buddhist, and I am quite different. For example, before I took the refuges, I smoked and drank alcohol—but not now. I declare that my life has now changed and I shall endeavor not to act like a common uninstructed person."


After all, the aim of Mahayana is not to seek release from pain, but rather to develop a good character as a bodhisattva and to save others with one's accomplishment, even with pain to oneself.


In China , it was customary to approach a guru and say to him, "I am just like an uncut stone and I request you to engrave and polish me."


As a simile for taking refuge, we may think of the magician who points at a stone, turning it into gold. Such a transformation can occur in the character of one who takes the three refuges.


c. Vajrayana. Traditionally, one does not learn any of the secret teachings unless one has first taken refuge in the exoteric sense. But in the West, some Tantric texts have been published quite openly and anyone who cares to may read them. From such reading, one may find good points to judge the Buddhist teachings and some good methods in the position of consequence (see, for instance, the Oxford Tibetan Series).


Extending the simile we have already used, we may say, "The golden stone has now become a golden Buddha-image through the refuges of the Vajrayana."


If a person has the high goal of becoming a Buddha, then first he or she should get an early and perfect renunciation of all possessions and take refuge in the Four Gems (in esoteric Buddhism, refuge in the guru precedes the other three). One who thus takes refuge does not behave like a common person who offers a khata (ceremonial white scarf) to a rinpoche, repeats three times what he says, and then hurries away. Many foreign students spend money to come to me and, with the return ticket booked, ask me for the refuges. First of all, I am not a guru, and secondly, people with such an attitude are not ready to take the refuges.


I hope that our readers will have read much on our subject and made all the necessary meditation preparations very thoroughly. With their minds well-set on these ideas, they may then truly take the refuge. Taking refuge, after all, is not a social matter, as though one were joining some school with an ambition to make a name for oneself in some subject. Even in school it is necessary for a pupil to follow the syllabus for the prescribed number of years and to accept the disciplines and instructions of the teachers. In a spiritual matter, then, it is not possible simply to come and go as one pleases. If one truly desires the refuges, it is not correct to think of departing again immediately after they have been given.


Mr. Chen gave another example:


If I go to a craftsman and wish to become his apprentice, he will not immediately teach me his art, but may hand me a broom or assign me some other menial work. When he sees that I do any work well and have no pride, being completely obedient to him, then he will impart his techniques to me slowly, over several years. Buddhism is not merely for worldly ends, but for the highest purpose: Full Enlightenment. How, then, can one think of going to see a teacher for a few hours and then going back? This attitude saddens me—as does the fact that so few gurus are really good. Where neither guru nor disciple are really good and their meeting even involves monetary transactions, whatever Buddhism there may be at such a time is quickly gone.


2. Stages of Taking Refuge


a. Outwardly


i. Find a good guru and make offerings to him.

ii. Stay with him and devotedly serve him every day.

iii. Practice under the guidance of the guru.

iv. If you get your guru's permission or if he sends you on some mission, then you may leave him, but not otherwise.


The objects of the outward refuges are the Guru, Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.


b. Inwardly. Offer all thoughts to the Four Gems and keep no selfish volitions. One's thoughts should be occupied by the instructions of the guru.


Object: taking refuge in the oral instructions of sila, samadhi, and prajna—all according to the guru's method of practice.


c. Secretly. By the guru's grace one is always in the refuge of sunyata and ananda (bliss).


Object: taking refuge in the yidam, channels, energy, and wisdom-essence, all under the guidance of a heruka-guru (a teacher with his dakini, or yogic consort).


d. Most Secretly. In Mahamudra, the Great Perfection, and Chan, the objective of taking refuge is to:


"Enter into Chan,

Renounce Chan,

Use Chan, and

(Attain) the ultimate Chan."


Although there are four kinds of refuges, the refuge formula is the same for all:


Gurum saranam gacchami (in the Vajrayana only);

Buddham saranam gacchami;

Dharman saranam gacchami;

Sangham saranam gacchami (the three taught in all the exoteric schools).


This formula is repeated three times, adding before the second repetition: "Dvitiyampi" on all four; and before the third time: "Triyampi." It is sometimes explained that taking the refuges three times represents taking them with the mind, speech, and body, and therefore that one has taken them with all of one's being.


B. Prostrations


As we have already given an explanation of the benefits of the practice in answer to one of Venerable Khantipalo's questions, there is no need to repeat the matter here (see Appendix I, Part One, A, 5). We may consider prostration under the same headings as we have used above.


a. Outwardly. Even the exoteric tradition of Mahayana differs from the Southern Hinayana tradition and we do not consider here the latter's kneeling prostration. In Chinese Mahayana one must do this:


Mr. Chen rose and, adopting a slow, swinging majestic gait, approached us, saying, "When Dharma preachings are organized in some big temple, famous monks, before they preach, must, of course, worship. Slowly they come to their preaching seat…" (And Mr. Chen exemplified the essence of a Chinese dignified manner). Then he placed his hands at his chest and stood as though meditating. After a minute or two his hands parted, the left one remaining at his chest while the right one was slowly lowered. At the same time the knees were bent, lowering the body. The right hand was then placed on the ground in front of the body to take its weight, the knees not yet on the ground. Then, simultaneously, the left hand was placed on the left side, the right hand moved to the corresponding position, and the knees were lowered. Next, the forehead was brought to the ground between the hands, and lastly the hands were inverted with palms upwards.


All this was done silently, gracefully, slowly, and respectfully. Mr. Chen explained:


The more famous the monk, the more slowly he was expected to perform his prostration, and when kneeling in the final position he might remain there for several minutes praying. The hands are placed palms upwards as though the Buddha's feet were standing on them. If one is concentrated and sincere in this prostration, one may even feel the warmth of the Buddha's feet on one's hands. There was a very devoted member of the Pure Land School who died not so long ago in China . His meditation was so strong that one could see in the hollow on the ground made by the imprint of his head, the image of Amitabha, whom he fervently worshipped while in the attitude of prostration. I have seen these marks in his place of worship though they have faded over the years.


The essential thing with this type of prostration is the reverence and slowness with which it is performed, as this gives time for the arousing of faith and discursive meditation.


b. Inwardly. As a contrast with the former type, this should be done quickly. This type of prostration, the long or great one, is also described in the answer to a question (see Appendix I, Part One, A, 5). Here one is asking the object of reverence to save one quickly; hence, energy for this should be used by oneself.


Bhante said, "Suppose a man were condemned to death by a kind king and he came to ask him for a reprieve. Quickly, urgently, he would bow down at the king's feet." "You are quite right," said the yogi.


c. Secretly. Keep the inner energy concentrated in the secret wheel by falling down rather than by using the method referred to in the "Inwardly" section.


Mr. Chen demonstrated this full-length falling.


Only after one has practiced the second and third initiations has this significance. When the deep breathing in the bottle shape has been practiced, then one may make prostrations in this way. Before these other things have been accomplished, it may be positively harmful.


d. Most Secretly. Whether one uses the small or large prostration, whatever method is used, the yogi must continuously hold the realization that the worshipped and the worshipper are both in sunyata.


C. Offering the Mandala


1. The Purpose of Offering


a. Passively, it is to get rid of miserliness.


b. Actively, it is to accumulate the "spiritual stock" of supermundane merits and wisdom. Many practice merely to get more worldly comforts, such as money, etc., but this is not the true meaning of offering the mandala. One should only offer it to increase one's "spiritual stock." Some make the mistake that "spiritual stock" refers only to merits, but this is not the case, as we can easily see when we know the significance of the different articles offered in the mandala.


For merit: Rice, pearls, gems, and other precious things.

For wisdom: Flowers and ornaments for the heavenly women and female Buddhas (dakinis). These are common to the mandala of every school.


In the Nyingmapa: Offerings for or symbolizing the Dharmakaya are for wisdom, whereas those for the various rupakayas (such as Nirmanakaya and Sambhogakaya) are primarily for merits. (Of course, even the two rupakayas have wisdom, since they are Buddha-manifestations.)


c. Benefits. The mandala is not only to increase merit but to lengthen life as well. How does it do this? Some die through exhaustion of their merits, and the mandala, which increases them, is both useful and practical.


d. It is offered for the salvation of others and not at all for oneself. Though many people practice only selfishlythis is against the ideals of the Hinayana and Mahayana.


Here I have a poem called "Offering the Mandala":


I do not want broad acres,

Nor official rank and right

The mandala I offer twice

By day, and twice by night.


My one wish that every being

Be a Dharma-instrument.

Alone, oh! do not let me gain

The Full Enlightenment.


In this way I stress that mandala-offering is for others, not for ourselves; and it is certain that in this Kali Age it is difficult to find good Dharma instruments. The object of the offering is the trikaya, for things are offered to each Buddha-body, and the subject also keeps a will to become the trikaya. Thus this offering is important both for the Dharma instruments and for Enlightenment, though many hold mistaken ideas on this matter.


The Buddha preached on one occasion: "There may come a time when, in a great famine, only one grain of rice will be sold for one jewel—so expensive will food be. Yet if a man or woman has taken refuge, then he or she will not be out of food." Then what need is there to offer the mandala for selfish ends?


Now we come to practice.


2. Practice


Mr. Chen fetched a rug and spread this on the floor. He then brought his silver mandala on a shallow tray and two small baskets. He then sat down on the rug and gave a running commentary. He said, "I have my own experience with the mandala and so I shall show you my way of offering it. First take out the contents of the mandala."


Removing the topmost jewel, he began to take out the various objects covered by the rice of the top receptacle, saying, "The objects that one offers are not fixed, and anything may be given which is not an impurity or a poison."


Taking out a tiny black bottle, he said, "This is called 'Fairy Medicine,' but I like to offer it as its shape is the same as the nectar flask of the Long-Life Buddha (Amitayus)."


Mr. Chen then scooped the rice into one basket and the various objects he placed in a second container. Next, a head-necklace was taken off the outside of one ring. "This," the yogi explained, "is offered to the dakini and when I change these objects—every month or so—it is given to make some small girl happy. Then there is this small globe of the world which I also include, as the stanza says that the whole world is offered."


It is best to change all the rice with each offering, leaving only a few grains to show the continuity of the guru's grace. Afterwards, this rice should not be taken by the yogi making the offerings, but may be given to beggars or to animals. Even if one cannot change all the rice, it is necessary to use at least two-thirds of new grain.


There are three kinds of mandala, and the one we are arranging now is called "the Great Mandala."


3. The Great Mandala


a. The Base. The base of the mandala symbolizes the thirty-seven bodhipaksika dharmas.


Then, with a little rice in the palms of both hands, Mr. Chen picked up this base with his left hand and slid the inside of the right one around it, first clockwise three times and then three times counter-clockwise. "Thereby," he said, "the misdeeds of exterior actions and interior thoughts are counteracted. At the same time, one repeats once the mantra of 100 syllables of Vajrasattva. Then put the rice from the right hand on top of the base and say:




In this way an unshakeable foundation is made, and the earth becomes gold."


b. The First Circle . Put the first circle of the mandala on the base while uttering:




This is the Iron Wall of Sila Observance.


If one has any objects associated with heavenly beings then they may be put into this circle to be offered to the Buddha. Fill the mandala with rice, using the right hand, and put into this circle whatever precious worldly things one has, such as coins from different countries, sandalwood, gold, silver, medicine, or ornaments for the dakinis of heaven and mankind. If one has any very small toys, these may also be offered for Manjusri, the "boy" bodhisattva, to increase the Dharma Joy.


If the mandala is offered for the three bodies of the Buddha, then this lowest circle is for the Nirmanakaya.


c. The Second Circle . Precious things included in the second circle are specially offered to various dakinis. Flowers and ornaments may also be used here and these are a special offering when this circle is given to the Sambhogakaya.


d. The Third Circle . The third and smallest circle concerns wisdom, and therefore the Dharmakaya, so one should put within it any objects which are light or wisdom-symbols such as crystal or things in the form of a heart, but there are no certain rules about this. Cover them completely with rice and level the top.


e. The Summit . There are altogether thirty-seven offerings named in the incantation. Finally, at the summit, one places something in the form of a jewel to represent the top of Sumeru Mountain .


f. Offering. Now the mandala is complete. One should raise it reverently with both hands, at least as high as the forehead, and make the offering. At the same time one visualizes with a concentrated mind:


"May these offerings be multiplied to fill this hermitage, this town, the whole visible world, the realm of sense-desires, the realm of the form gods and that of the formless gods, until it pervades all the Dharmadhatu! May these offerings increase in geometric proportion! May the Nirmanakaya Buddhas, the Sambhogakaya Buddhas, and the Dharmakaya accept what is here offered to them!"


The great mandala takes several minutes to offer once, so after the initial offering, the smaller one may be performed.


4. The Middle Mandala


On the base of the mandala make seven little heaps of rice, representing Sumeru, the four continents, the sun, and the moon. Add a little new rice at each offering.


5. The Small Mandala


This mandala is made with the hands (as a mudra) but is too complicated to describe. In each palm place a little rice, representing the two stores of merit and of wisdom. The sun and the moon are represented by circles of the thumbs and little fingers, and the rest are like the four continents. The two ring fingers pointing upwards stand for the cosmic mountain, Sumeru. After offering the rice in this way, scatter some from the right hand, uttering the following gatha:


Earth, the foundation, has been purified

With incense, Sumeru, the continents four,

The sun and the moon, I offer up to thee,

Together with the Pure Land 's radiant store.

May all sentient beings, that suffer pain,

Everlasting Supreme Enlightenment attain!


This should be repeated during every kind of mandala which is offered, and not only with this mudra-mandala.


6. The Objects Offered


The offerings may be considered under the usual four headings:


a. Outwardly. Food, palace, house, tonics, medicines, and all the precious things one has—these are offered for worldly benefits.


b. Inwardly. Brandy, whisky, and other fine spirits, the five nectars, and the five meats—such offerings are made only in the Vajrayana and may be divided again into two:


i. Outwardly: offerings for the lower three yogas—no meat should be given.

ii. Inwardly: offerings for the highest yoga—meats and spirits are both used.


c. Secretly. The offering is accompanied by all the dakinis of the five Buddha-families, the three holy places of the dakini, and the twenty-four mandalas dedicated to them, and those of the Akanistha Pure Land itself, to make both female and male Buddhas happy. Even worldly women who nevertheless have some dakini nature—in fact all beautiful women of character and wisdom—should all be visualized as dancing, singing, and in the sixteen kinds of action mentioned in the Vajrayana.


d. Most Secretly. This offering is of all the good things gained through the samadhis—such as wisdom-light, equanimity, joy, or Chan.


D. The One-Hundred-Syllable Incantation of Confession


1. The Four Kinds of Misdeeds to Confess


a. Outwardly. Breaking of the Hinayana silas, either the five of the layman or the 250 of the bhiksus (according to the Sarvastivada tradition), most of which are prohibitive in character since they forbid certain acts.


b. Inwardly. Actions committed against the bodhisattva samvara silas, and as these are so positively formulated, one's faults lie in failing to do good, and thus not saving others.


c. Secretly. This is found only in Vajrayana, and concerns the precepts applying to the third initiation.


d. Most Secretly. Offences against the Four Conditions of the Dharma-nature.


2. The Four Kinds of Power in Confession


a. Outwardly. This is kept by the "Power of Fear" and is similar to the power of common persons who think, "If I do a certain thing again, then this or that punishment will result." One should maintain such a fear. It is still useful, as it will eventually enable the meditator to destroy the evil he fears.


A powerful spirit once wanted to subdue Padmasambhava and so appeared as a layman in front of the great yogi. He asked the sage, "What do you fear?" Padmasambhava replied, "I fear sins (in Tibetan: sdig-pa)." That spirit then reappeared in the form of a sdig-pa (a scorpion with nine heads and one tail). Seeing this, Padmasambhava stretched out his left hand and lifted up the monster, which may still be seen in images of the great guru.


Why did Padmasambhava fear misdeeds? A sage does not fear the consequences of an act but the wrong act itself. One should emulate the sages in this respect and then misdeeds cannot be committed.


The Buddha said: "The four parajikas are like a needle without any eye (i.e., imperfect), like a dead man who cannot come to life again, like a broken stone which can never be made whole, or like a cut palm tree which can never come to life."


Therefore, do not think that there is an easy way to confess, so that one may later commit the same deed again.


"Suppose," said Mr. Chen, "that a village beauty got a disease of the skin which badly infected her face. Even if she were able to cure the disease, many spots would still remain to spoil her beauty."


Prevention, therefore, is much better than cure in this matter of misdeeds.


b. Inwardly. Always keep whatever silas one has undertaken, repeat them frequently, and bear them always in mind. Thus one will be protected by them. This is called the "Power of Prevention."


Once a "mouth Chan" monk said, "Oh, it is so much trouble to repeat all these precepts (pratimoksa). Why should we do this?" At this, it is reported that Wei Tuo (a protector god) threw him out of the temple.


Another monk felt very lazy and sleepy, and thought in a depressing way, "Today no meditation, only repeating (the pratimoksa)." When the meeting was held, he alone left to sleep. He was struck hard by Wei Tuo, too.


I myself repeat the sutra of precepts once a month, even though I am not a bhiksu, and with a good mind wish that all the merits may be dedicated to all the viharas of Buddhist monks for their benefits.


c. Secretly. Actually, the nectar from Vajrasattva, which is the power of vajra-love action, is called a "Power of Dependence."


d. Most Secretly. Abiding in the sunyata-realization is called the "Power of Destruction."


The above four powers are similar in name to those given in Tibetan books, but here I have matched them with the four categories.


3. The Ritual of Confession


a. Outwardly. Always use the ritual of Avalokitesvara (the Chinese form is Guan Yin).


Once there was a certain queen of Liang Dynasty who was on her deathbed. A male servant who was fanning her felt tired and dropped the fan, letting it fall on her face. She became very angry and died in this state, cursing her servant's carelessness. Because of this, her next birth was as a snake. However, during her life as the queen, she and her husband the King had done much good for Buddhism, so although she was in the form of a snake, the former queen remembered her royal life. By the power she possessed, she was able to appear before the king in a dream, telling him what had happened and asking him to gain the services of some good monk to release her from the evil birth into which she had fallen. The National Teacher of that time then made this ritual of confession, and employed it, securing the queen's rebirth in heaven. This particular ritual has been very influential since that time. It is in any case good to confess to Guan Yin, as she is so merciful.


b. Inwardly. This is the Ritual of Water composed by a master of the Chan School . It is quite different from the first ritual. Here the names of all the misdeeds are gathered together and the whole composition must be repeated before the Buddhas. It is not often used because of its great length.


Separately, one may use the rites of the thirty-five Buddhas themselves as was the practice of the Venerable Tsong Khapa. He only repeated their names and did not concentrate on their special qualities. In meditation he saw them all, but headless, and was much distressed by this. However, he soon found the cure to this lamentable occurrence, by adding the epithet "All-knowing." He then perceived them as complete.


c. Secretly. Visualize Vajrasattva in the act of embracing his consort, whether one is personally practicing the third initiation or not. One obtains through this meditation the nectar which comes from the contact of vajra and lotus, and this washes away all the sins of mind and body.


d. Most Secretly. This is according to the meditation of Mahamudra. A friend of mine came to me and I advised him: "You have so many sins; you should confess them." Then he said, "I meditate on Mahamudra, so it is easy for me to make confession." I said, "Of course, if you are able to meditate on Mahamudra very properly then you will be able to do this." However, I thought, "He has not attained the realization of Mahamudra, and without it, how can he confess in this way?" This is the mistake of taking the position of cause to be the position of consequence.


The latter two belong to the Vajrayana; the third one is very important among the four foundational practices.


4. How to Determine Whether the Sin Is Fully Confessed


a. Outwardly. A meditator may have some dream in which he sees himself washing in crystal-clear water. Another dream indicating purity would be vomiting of black matter and dark blood. Such dreams indicate that misdeeds are expiated.


b. Inwardly. According to my "Treasure of Meditative Light," I discovered a curious fact, though it has been so far unproven by my guru. Notice the hairs on the big toe while one is bathing (in a shower). If they remain erect while water is poured over the body, then one's misdeed is expiated. If, on the other hand, they are flattened against the skin, this shows that further confession is needed.


In the histories of monks in China , it is related that there was a monk who, before becoming a bhiksu, had committed many unskillful deeds. He made the ritual of confession many times but because of the weight of his past misdeeds, could not believe that he was free from them. In a dream he came to Maitreya's Heaven and that bodhisattva told him: "You have already confessed your sins." As the monk was still doubtful, Maitreya told him to use the divination sticks to prove his purity.


"However," added Mr. Chen smiling, "this way is not very sure, if the sinner does not perform it carefully."


c. Secretly. This is done by experiencing a dream of meditative state in which a sin of confession appears in the shape of a dakini. She will be seen as young and beautiful if expiation is complete but as a repulsive old leper-woman if the sins have to be further confessed.


d. Most Secretly. The holy light of one's meditations will be clear blue or white if the evil deeds are confessed, but dull in color if not.


5. Practice of Confession


One must be instructed in the visualization of Vajrasattva by a teacher. He will tell one that the deity should be visualized on the head of the meditator. After reciting one's faults earnestly and with tears, one asks the deity, "I have confessed my evil deeds. May I be successful in my meditations and from you gain purity." Then one's own faults and the misdeeds of others are visualized as gathered in the body, and all the body seems black and slimy with this mass of sins. From his heart, with the Hundred-Syllable Mantra, some nectar is seen, which passes out of his vajra to shower down the median channel of the meditator. All the blackness and dirt ooze from the body and pass away from it, seemingly in the form of urine, perspiration, and wind, leaving it clear and fresh.


The mantra of Vajrasattva should, like every other incantation, be imparted by a guru, though we give its meaning here for meditative purposes:


1. OM VAJRASATTVA SAMAYA—Calling his name and samaya.

2. MANUPALAYA—Please let me not forget my pure nature.

3. VAJRASATTVA TVENOPATISTA—Please bestow upon me Buddhahood.

4. DRITHO ME BHAVA—Please make my sunyata-nature firm.

5. SUTOSYA ME BHAVA—Please may I not depart from my original joy.

6. SUPOSYA ME BHAVA—Please may I not depart from my sunyata-nature.

7. ANURAKTO ME BHAVA—Please may I not be without the nature of pleasure.

8. SARVA SIDDHI ME PRAYACCHA—Please bestow upon me full achievement.

9. SARVA KARMA SUCA ME—Please give me the freedom of every good karma.

10. CITTAM SREYAN KURU HUM—Please give me great boldness of mind.

11. HA HA HA HA HO—Please lead me to obtain the five wisdoms and their functions.

12. BHAGAVAN SARVA TATHAGATA VAJRAMA ME MUNCA—May all Tathagatas and Vajrasattvas not leave me.

13. VAJRA BHAVA—May I not be apart from your Vajra-nature.

14. MAHA SAMAYASATTVA—Let me abide in the great samaya of Vajrasattva.

15. AH HUM PHAT—Please subdue my sorrows.


Only one line is actually used for confession; that is, the one beginning with "May all Tathagatas…." If one is not purified by confession one cannot unite into their vajric nature and will then be in great danger. Hence this line is very important.


E. The Interrelation of All Four Foundations


1. Refuge


a. If one takes refuge, then one gains merits from the Buddha and this is similar to the mandala practice.


b. If one takes refuge, then one takes the Triple Gem as the object of confession.


c. If one takes refuge with reverence, then this rids one of pride, as does prostration.


2. Mandala


a. One offers the mandala to, and takes refuge in, the Triple Gem.


b. One offers the mandala with all things included in it: one's mind, body—everything. Thus pride is abandoned as with prostration.


c. One offers the mandala so that all things may be transmuted into Enlightenment, a similar function to that of confession.


3. Prostration


a. The object of worship is the same object as that of taking refuge.


b. One worships with all the sinners of the six realms, thus gathering merit as with the mandala.


c. When one makes prostration, pride is then eliminated, as in confession.


4. Confession


a. Before one confesses, one has, of course, the object: the refuges.


b. When one confesses, one must make prostration, thus in both ways cutting down pride.


c. When one confesses specific misdeeds the appropriate offering should be made:


i. Confessing a misdeed of ignorance—offer a lamp (light dispels darkness).


ii. Confessing a misdeed of greed—offer water (an abundant substance).


iii. Confessing a misdeed of lust—offer flowers (beautiful things).


iv. Confessing a misdeed of pride—offer devotion (to break that pride).


v. Confessing a misdeed of doubt—offer ointment (which cleanses outside and cures inside).


vi. Confessing sins of any kind—offer incense (the fragrance of good silas is smelled everywhere).


All these practices are set down in many rituals and I have only offered here some of the theory, together with a little practical instruction. To conclude, we may say something about the practice of taking refuge.


In the Kagyupa tradition, the object in which one takes refuge is visualized as a large tree with five branches. On the middle one is His Holiness Karmapa himself and other gurus, while on the right branch are the bodhisattvas of the Mahayana, and on the left, the arhats of the Hinayana. The gurus are shown on a higher part of the middle branch; yidam, middle part. On the whole of the front one are shown the Buddha and all Buddhas of the three periods of time. The branch of the back supports the sutras—the sacred words of the Buddhas. This is the objective side of taking refuge.


The meditator stands before this host, visualizing himself or herself surrounded by all sentient beings. Demons and evil ghosts are visualized in front of him, one's mother on the left and one's father on the right. Behind one are different classes of beings in concentric circles. In the nearest one are all the hell-beings, beyond them the hungry ghosts, then the animals, then all mankind. Further out are the asuras and most remote are the devas. When one takes the refuges, all these beings are visualized as doing likewise. When the meditator performs the prostration, repeating the hundred-syllable mantra, all beings in these six realms make their salutations. When confession is made, all beings also confess their misdoings.


Taking refuge and the formula for bodhicitta should be repeated together, according to my view. It is very important that the bodhicitta stages not be neglected just because they are only four lines long and have no special mantra. This is often the case and they are only run through quickly and then forgotten. Their real import should be developed by the use of these four foundations, so essential for successful practice of Tantric Buddhism. Where there is no bodhicitta developed, the four foundations are not established firmly, and there is no real Vajrayana. If the four foundations are well practiced, the whole system of Vajrayana may be practiced without any obstacles.


Regarding the number of times these four foundations should be practiced, the old school said ten thousand is enough, while the new school emphasizes tenfold of the old, as the sins of the practitioners are greater and their merits are fewer. Thus, I agree with the new sect's policy. Nevertheless, it all depends upon the inspiration and realization gleaned from the practices, not the number of times they are performed.


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